You might get the feeling that some of us ‘living in the fast lane’ are not the biggest fans of homeopathy. In one sense that’s not true – after all, this humbug nonsense can be good for a laugh – wouldn’t it be great if fading chakras could tell us when patients are starting to go downhill, or if we could prolong patients lives by lengthening their lifelines with a biro!
Poking fun and self-indulgent chuckling aside, there is a serious aspect to all this senseless pseudoscience. It can kill – as we have unfortunately seen in Australia with the death of a young child from eczema. Eczema is eminently treatable by medical means, but evidently not so by homeopathy. PZ Myers‘ turn of phrase, ‘quackery without scruples’, just doesn’t seem harsh enough for this type of criminal negligence.
Meanwhile, the British Chiropractic Association is suing Simon Singh, renowned author of books like Trick or Treatment, for criticizing claims that chiropractors can cure childhood ailments such as colic and asthma. In the UK this has sparked off a huge debate about how libel laws pertain to scientific claims. There might be ramifications for anyone writing about scientific and pseudo-scientific claims anywhere in the world – hands up anyone who wants to be sued through the British court system for stating that the Emperor wears no clothes?
The biologist Olivia Judson wrote last week in the New York Times: Several times this summer, science journalists in London have leaned over to me and said something along the lines of, “I was thinking of writing,” and gone on to describe an article that was going to be critical of someone. “But then,” the speaker would gloomily conclude, “I thought to myself, ‘Simon Singh,’ and I decided not to.”Richard Dawkins’ Address to the Liberal Democrat Party Conference (20 September 2009)
Scientific claims need to be discussed in the open and subjected to rigorous challenge. That’s how science works.
Thankfully scientists, bloggers and other enlightened people from all walks of life from all around the world have got behind Simon Singh. But the battle continues: follow the ‘Keep Libel Laws out of Science’ campaign at Sense About Science.
“The ancients thought as clearly as we do, had greater skills in the arts and in architecture, but they had never learned the use of the great instrument which has given man control over nature – experiment.William Osler: The Pathological Institute of a General Hospital. Glasgow Medical Journal 1911; 76: 321-333
As we’ve noted before, Tim Minchin being the prime example, sometimes, the world needs to turn to a comedian to set the record straight:
WARNING: video contains an Irishman using occasionally florid and potentially offensive language